Film Review – Knox Goes Away

Knox Goes Away

Knox Goes Away

The title of Knox Goes Away (2024) contains a double meaning. The first involves an aging contract killer – John Knox (Michael Keaton) – realizing that he is near the end of his time “in the game.” Long term employment is not a standard expectation in his line of business, and Knox knows sooner or later his misdeeds will catch up to him. The second meaning involves his deteriorating mind. Knox has been diagnosed with a rapid form of dementia. He learns that he will lose all memory in a matter of weeks. He’s instructed to get his affairs in order and seek treatment facilities before he is no longer able to function on his own. 

On the surface, the premise makes for a promising hard-boiled noir. Not only do we get the worn down, ragged anti-hero, but we also get the extra element of a ticking clock counting down to zero. Will Knox get away before he “goes away?” Keaton – taking on the added duties of director – takes on a very deliberate, slow burn approach. Working off a script by Gregory Poirier, Keaton shapes a twisty narrative that has several moving parts working at the same time. Knox must live with the effects of memory loss, thus affecting his job as a hit man. To make things worse, he must also deal with his estranged son, Miles (James Marsden), who has come to him for help after getting into his own trouble. Bodies start showing up, leading to Detectives Ikari (Suzy Nakamura) and Rale (John Hoogenakker) zeroing in on Knox as a person of interest.


With so many parts swirling around at the same time, it’s easy for us to get lost in the commotion. Keaton’s direction is so measured that it doesn’t feel like we are getting bogged down. In fact, the film’s Achille’s Heel is that it is too leisurely. Keaton’s narrative strolls through events with a watered-down pacing. Scene’s play out gradually, with the camera often fastened in a single position capturing actors in generic medium shots. A movie being slow is not an automatic weakness – some movies incorporate an unhurried style as a positive. The issue here is that there is no tension. There is no sense of increasing suspense. Knox’s dilemma works as a mild inconvenience rather than a life-or-death situation. With a convoluted plot – involving to crimes overlapping one another – we (as the audience) try to find something to get hooked on, something to keep us interested from one scene to the next. That ingredient is missing. What’s left are bland conversations with the occasional burst of violence sprinkled in.

The individual performances deserve to be captured in a better movie. Michael Keaton has been one of our most charismatic character actors for a long time. He plays Knox with a hard edge but vulnerable center. He knows that he can switch gears and turn into a killer, but the fact that dementia is seeping in causes him to question his very existence. He re-evaluates all his existing relationships, including his ex-wife Ruby (Marcia Gay Harden), his escort-turned-girlfriend Annie (Joanna Kulig), his friend and fellow criminal Xavier (Al Pacino), and of course Miles. Special credit should be given to James Marsden, who took on the role of Knox’s son and gives it as much gusto as humanly possible. Where everyone plays their parts with subtlety, Marsden goes for a broader and louder style. Some might argue that he pushes the envelope a little too much, but it works when juxtaposed with Keaton’s work as Knox. The two amplify the rift between the father and son characters, creating a love/hate dynamic that is one of the few shining positives we get. 

I’ll admit to you, dear reader, that I am completely ignorant when it comes to the medical components of dementia. I don’t have the slightest clue as to how it feels, how it disorients those afflicted by it, or how it creates a hole in a person life and those closest to them. Knox Goes Away does little in terms of providing insight on this topic. I’m not asking that a movie be medically accurate down to the smallest detail – films aren’t built to provide that kind of information. What it can do is provide the emotional aspect, the feeling of what it could be like to be in that position. Sadly, we do not get that. Even worse, the dementia operates as a mere plot device, coming and going when it is most convenient. We get title cards that signify how long time has passed. However, we don’t have any indication over how the disease has progressed other than Knox simply telling us. Sure, there are moments when he forgets where he parked his car or someone’s name, but they leave little resonance.


The way the dementia is depicted on screen feels like cinematic shorthand. During a crucial sequence where Knox is in the middle of a job, the editing flashes with hyperkinetic cuts, causing him to visibly shake or shiver. Obviously, this method is meant to show Knox losing control of his mind and ultimately botching the job. But I was never convinced by it. The disease is so undefined in how it attacks Knox’s head that it ends up being this incongruous threat. Not once did I think he was seriously ill. That’s not to say there aren’t people suffering from this disease, nor do I think the production should be responsible for portraying the real-life nuance of it. But the lack of consistency results in Knox’s dementia feeling like a storytelling crutch rather than a natural component.

Knox Goes Away contains plenty of good performances trapped in a narrative that never shifts out of first gear. Michael Keaton “The Actor” makes the most of what is given to him. Michael Keaton “The Director” leaves a lot to be desired. I’m a fan of noir and crime thrillers – they have the capacity to show people making desperate decisions in extreme conditions. To the film’s detriment, that feeling of desperation is nowhere to be found.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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